Comment: Declan Rice should consider Jack Grealish's mistake before he decides international future
As Declan Rice continues to mull over his international future like a parent pondering which secondary school to send their precocious child too, he would be wise to consider the case of Jack Grealish.
Grealish made a mistake choosing to play for England. Those around him might not want to admit it to themselves, but he was badly advised.
If he had played for Ireland, Grealish would not be playing in the Championship now and he would be the face of the Ireland team. He would have picked up all sorts of lucrative sponsorship deals and, more importantly, he would be a far better player.
With 30 senior caps for Ireland, including appearances at the European Championship in 2016 and the pressure of trying to qualify for the World Cup, Grealish would have matured rapidly. He would be a more complete footballer and scouts, having watched him perform on the international stage, would have had no hesitation in advising a top-flight team to sign him.
His inclusion in Martin O’Neill’s squad, may also have been the difference between Ireland losing in a World Cup play-off against Denmark last year and winning it. The one area where Ireland really struggle is in attack. Grealish is not the centre forward O’Neill is desperate for, but he would have been an ideal replacement for Wes Hoolahan, an upgrade, in fact.
He would have made all the difference to this Ireland squad and his club career would have benefited enormously. But Grealish, almost overnight, decided he did not want to play for Ireland anymore. England were also aware of his potential and they pounced. The attention did not so much turn his head as spin it around.
Born in Birmingham, those around Grealish advised he should play for England, pointing out that the commercial opportunities would far exceed the benefits of playing for Ireland. He refused a call up into the senior squad and decided to declare for England instead. Three years later, he is still playing in the Championship and has got nowhere near the senior England squad.
There is still time for him, but Grealish is well down the pecking order of creative midfielders considered by Gareth Southgate. At the age of 23, he is also in danger of being overtaken by the likes of Manchester City’s Phil Foden and a host of other creative players who have shone in England’s successful age group sides.
Like Rice, Grealish played all of his age group football for Ireland, moulded and nurtured within their system. He repeatedly said how proud he was to wear the Emerald Green jersey and was enjoying himself.
There was a buzz around him in Ireland, people could not wait to see how he did when he made the step up to the senior team. Then he changed his mind. He was, it was stressed, English and would play for England.
That is fair enough. Nobody could force a young man born in England, who speaks with a thick Brummie accent, to become an adopted Irishman.
But it is something Rice needs to consider. The young West Ham defender/midfielder has already pulled out of two Ireland squads, but unlike Grealish he has already played for the senior team.
At the age of just 19, he has three senior caps and said in the summer that the debate about his international allegiance was almost offensive. There was no debate. He was playing for Ireland and that was it.
The English FA, though, had other ideas. According to Dan Ashworth, the outgoing FA technical director and Southgate, there were gaps in the system. The positions where they did not think they had an abundance of talent coming through was at centre back and defensive midfield.
Rice was not in that system, but he did qualify to play for England. Having broken through into the first team at West Ham, suddenly they were interested. Southgate made his move.
It has made a seemingly straight forward decision into a complex one for a young man who is also in the middle of negotiating a lucrative new contract with his club. None of us can know how we would react in his position.
But he needs to be wary of being misled and he needs to be aware of what has happened to Grealish. The English FA are covering themselves, nothing more. They are worried about the lack of English players in the top flight and they want to maximise their options.
But that is all Rice is - an option. He must ask himself how many other players coming through in his age group are likely to challenge him for a place in the England squad and how many are still ahead of him?
As things stand, he would, just like Grealish, be asked to play for the Under-21s if he turns his back on Ireland, not the senior team.
Ireland are not as strong as England, in fact they are struggling, but Rice would be a star within that team. There would be a desire to build a style of play around him and, yes, all the major multi-national sponsors associated with Irish football would be falling over themselves to make him the face of their brand.
Rice was born and raised in London, but like so many others before him, playing for Ireland could be hugely beneficial. He has already won three caps, why not focus on winning another 90, rather than the possibility of making an England squad one day.
It is a huge dilemma, a stick or twist moment, maybe he should ask Grealish for his thoughts.